Texas doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to handling cases of rappers, but the Tay-K conviction and subsequent sentencing sets a dangerously overreaching precedent.
Tay-K, born Taymor McIntyre, was arrested and charged with a 2016 burglary during which a 21-year old man, Eric Winter, was murdered. K was never suspected to be the trigger man, but his organization of the robbery made a murder charge possible. On Tuesday, he was found guilty and sentenced to 55 years in prison and a $10,000 dollar fine. He was charged with murder and three counts of aggravated robbery. The murder got him 55 years, the first charge of aggravated robbery 30 and the second and third counts 13 years each. The sentences will run concurrently.
On its face, this is all a fairly straightforward case of crime and punishment, but the details surrounding the events give it a little more texture. After being charged with the murder, K was placed on house arrest and given an ankle bracelet. Rather than abide the punishment, he cut off the bracelet and went on a three month race against the cops, who of course eventually caught him. During that time, he released “The Race,” a viral hit that used his charges and the wild goose chase that followed as fodder for cocky lyrics like “Fuck a beat, I was tryna beat a case/But I ain’t beat that case, bitch I did the race” and “Pop a n***a then I go out my way/Do the dash then I go out the way/Rob a n***a shoes, rob a n***a lace/We tryna see a hunnit bands in our face.”
Vice reports that during the trial the other day, lyrics from that song were used during the questioning of the final witness.The lyrics from the song thus became the equivalent of evidence for the prosecution, a tactic that has been used against rappers in the past. Where the line should be drawn here is unclear, and recent cases (like Bobby Shmurda’s 2014 conviction) have set a precedent that suggests it will become an even more prominent method.
I am not a legal scholar, nor do I claim to be. However, even to the layman this precedent seems fishy. In his 1967 essay “The Death of the Author,” French critic Roland Barthes critiqued the idea that the artist themselves should be considered as part of the context of their work. He posited that this approach does a disservice to the author’s work by contextualizing it out of the inherent structure they intended. A modern example of this would be enjoying Annie Hall without feeling icky about Woody Allen’s various indiscretions.
The consumption practice of separating the artist from the art has long been a source of consternation for critics and general fans alike. It is hard to deny that XXXtentacion wrote catchy tunes, but it’s also hard to deny that he was a violent and problematic person. To allow the Texas courts, who are notoriously hard on defendants of color, to set the precedent that rap lyrics are evidence of a crime is a problem. Tay-K’s involvement in the murder and his flaunting of the law undeniably deserve a sentencing of some sort, but the legal overreach that the state of Texas engaged in by locking him up for 55 years with the chance of parole only at the halfway point of that sentence is grossly unethical. He embarrassed the cops and the state’s legal system by becoming a rap world sensation BY mocking them, and their corrective justice is indicative of an already problematic institution enacting aggressive revenge.